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That sugar cane can produce viable true seeds were first noticed in Barbados in 1858 but it was not until 1888 that scientific breeding began. The programme was led by J. R. Bovell and J.B. Harrison. It was the era of the Noble canes and they produced the two new varieties BH10(12) and BA11569. The noble breeding programme continued until the 1920s when new hybrid varieties were introduced from Java and India.

These were varieties developed from crossing old Nobles with Saccharum spontaneum. Thus began a new phase of breeding hybrid sugar canes in Barbados. Several notable varieties came from this period: B 34104, B 37161, B 4098, B 41211, B 41227, B 4362, B 45181, B 4744 and B 49119. The ability of these hybrids to resist diseases and to ratoon saved the sugar industries in the region from probable extinction. 


Breeding continued through the decades of the 1950s and 1960s producing many successful varieties for the Caribbean. By the mid 1960s the narrow genetic base was restricting significant advances from breeding. To counter this, a major effort was made to introduce new genetic material from the then available Sspontaneum collections and a "genetic base broadening” project was started. This continued for the next 30 years providing invaluable support to the commercial breeding programme. New genes for disease resistance, particularly to smut, and for ratooning ability were bred into our recent varieties.

During the 1990s, a project led to significant advances in the breeding of varieties with enhanced sugar yield. This was achieved by developing a special breeding population with extremely high sucrose content.

The current emphasis in our breeding efforts is on the development of multi-purpose varieties that can produce sugar, ethanol (from juice or molasses) and surplus bagasse for electricity generation. The merging of the genetic base broadening and high sucrose programmes is leading to rapid progress in this endeavour.

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The Station can now build on its long and proud history and provide varieties that can ensure the survival of the cane industries of the Caribbean in today’s difficult economic circumstances. We no longer need to constrain our efforts to just sugar for export but can exploit the full potential of sugar cane to fix energy for our conversion to a developmentally important resource.

Dr. Anthony Kennedy